Last Night: The Shine Of Your Japan, The Sparkle Of Your China--Steely Dan at the Paramount

Steely Dan played The Paramount Theatre on Monday, October 12.
Monday night, just as his band concluded the all-Aja portion of its show at the Paramount (the first of two; Kornelis will review Tuesday's finale), keyboardist/vocalist Donald Fagen revealed that the historic theatre was where Steely Dan performed its "first professional gig" in 1972, opening for The James Gang. With that, Steely Dan might be the least Northwest band to ever have cut its teeth in Seattle. Whereas the local aesthetic has long been decidedly minimalist, Steely Dan are virtuosos of maximalism. Nobody looks more blissful or less ridiculous with a melodica pressed to his lips than Fagen. And pretty much everyone besides Fagen looks fucking ridiculous with a melodica pressed to his lips.

Neither Fagen nor his longtime guitarist and partner, Walter Becker, were onstage when the Dan's seven-piece backing band (not to be confused with the Dan Band) opened with a lengthy jazz jam entitled "Smokey Brown Went to Jacksonville, Cooked Himself Some Soup, Drank a Pint of Scotch, Fell Down the Stairs, Saw Liza the Tramp, Took Her Out for Appetizers, and Sang Scoo-doo-loo-bee-bah-bwap." Okay, so that wasn't really the song's title, but wouldn't it be awesome if it were?

From there, the band expertly plowed right through Aja in its economical, seven-track entirety. "Black Cow" kicked things off, followed in short order by "Aja," "Deacon Blues," "Peg," and "Josie." While "Black Cow" was delivered with precision, it wasn't until "Aja" that it became apparent that, while the Earshot Jazz Festival doesn't debut until later in the month, tonight might as well have been its unofficial kickoff, what with the Dan's four-horn attack and Keith Carlock's frequent drum solos. The show was, simply put, a smooth jazz inferno.

Given the format, there was some uncertainty as to how long-winded the show would be once the septet of tunes concluded. Thankfully, Becker and Fagen were generous in trotting out some of their oeuvre's better-known ditties, including "Bodhisattva," "Black Friday," "Babylon Sisters," "Hey Nineteen," and, most impressively, a smokin' version of "Show Biz Kids."

The lone disappointment of the evening was "Dirty Work." After the tune started promisingly with an extended instrumental jam, Fagen signaled for his band to stop. Apparently, they started out in the wrong key. "We just want everything to be harmonically elegant for you," he remarked, before restarting the action. However, the song quickly fell into a rut when the central duo yielded lead vocal duties to the three female backup singers. There's a reason why backup singers, however proficient, are backup singers. These women were sensational in their preordained roles, but casting them as headliners, if only for a song, proved an unfortunate misstep.

Fagen oozed charisma up to this point, but the conciliatory maneuver signaled that his tank was near E. For his part, Becker is a singularly peculiar, (John) Oatesian stage presence. He played lead sparingly and almost never sang. On the rare occasions he was thrust into the spotlight, he wobbled as though he had cement boots on, reminiscent of an animatronic player in Chuck E Cheese's band. Yet somehow, the effect was more endearing than awkward.

Fortunately, Fagen got his second wind in time for a show-closing quartet consisting of "Do It Again," "My Old School," "Kid Charlemagne," and "Reelin' In the Years." The last song served as the encore, with Fagen strolling to his keyboard with a cigarette in hand, clearly oblivious to the politically correct notion that one must not smoke indoors, lest he tempt the hand of John Q. Law. At the song's conclusion, he, Becker, and the backup babes again ceded the stage to their band, which launched into a jazzy, instrumental jam that smoothed the crowd out of the Paramount and into the brisk October night.

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